Springfield Recognized For Child Literacy Efforts

Apr 17, 2017

A summer reading program at the Dorman school in Springfield, MA.
Credit WAMC

A community campaign to improve literacy in children from low-income families in Springfield, Massachusetts has been nationally honored.

Springfield’s Reading Success by 4th Grade initiative has been recognized by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading for “exemplary work in eliminating barriers faced by children from low-income families on the path to becoming proficient readers.”

For the fifth year in a row, Springfield was named a “Community Pacesetter” for making measurable progress to improve school attendance, reduce learning loss over the summer, and improve overall grade level reading.

The goal of the national campaign is to increase the number of children who have mastered reading by the time they enter fourth grade since studies have shown it to be a critical predictor of future academic success.

Chronic absenteeism for children in K-3rd grade declined from 18.2 percent in the 2012-13 school year to 14.6 percent last year, according to the Springfield school department.  Amy O’Leary of the advocacy organization Strategies for Children said getting children to go to school every day is a big key in early literacy work.

" We know in early years that absenteeism is a predictor of absenteeism is later years," she said.

Springfield last year measured an 11 percent increase in third graders who scored proficient on standardized tests on reading.

" It is incremental, but what it really shows is is takes the whole community to do this," said Sally Fuller, project director for the Reading Success by 4th Grade initiative. 

The effort to improve child literacy in Springfield involves  a broad coalition of leaders in education, child development, business, philanthropy and government.  It mobilizes parents, caregivers, and almost anyone who regularly interacts with children.

" This work starts at birth," said Fuller. " It starts in the home with parents talking, reading with their children and trying to get them ready to be successful with reading when they get to kindergarten."

Another measure of the initiative’s success is the percentage of third-graders participating in a summer learning program that maintained or improved their reading level increased from 76.7 percent to 83.4 percent over a four-year period.

" Ask any teacher, and they will tell you they spend a significant amount of time in September teaching what happened in the grade before," said Fuller.

Springfield is one of about 250 communities participating in the national grade-level reading campaign, but one of fewer than 40 Pacesetter award-winners.